4: “It’s a national historic site.”

“It’s a national historic site.”

Across the Great Lakes, scenes like the one above are becoming more and more frequent. In an attempt to save land from being claimed by powerful bodies of water, rocks and boulders are used to limit wave damage and prevent erosion.

Along the coast of the Fort Mississauga National Historic Site and the historic Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, Parks Canada has spent $4.9 million in federal infrastructure money to restore and protect 600 metres of shoreline.

The work was started in 2018 and was completed this summer, one year ahead of schedule, an accomplishment that Parks Canada asset manager Brendan Buggeln says the agency is proud of.

With a new record lake level in 2019, the erosion could have taken a further toll on the golf course — the oldest in North America.

“We prevented more possible erosion,” says Buggeln.

The area, whose beachfront was swallowed by the lake many years ago, was becoming a hazard for golfers and most of the trees were dying. Parks Canada removed around 200 trees, and plans to plant another 300, he says.

The type of protection done along that part of the Lake Ontario shore is a called a breakwater. Large boulders are built up several feet high to ensure that powerful waves hit the rocks and “break” before they can crash on the bank or shoreline.

Other types of shoreline protection include offshore breakwalls, beach nourishment or installing stone groynes. Parks Canada owns the golf course land and leases it to the NOTL Golf Club, and the agency determined the best plan was a breakwater with a gravel road for trucks to get in and out with boulders.

Buggeln says different types of protection are appropriate for different areas.

“At Fort Mississauga we decided action was necessary for public safety, for the visitor experience, for the cultural resources, and for the infrastructure that was there.”

“Fort Mississauga is a fascinating national historic site. It was developed just after the War of 1812, in response to the loss of Fort George, and wanting to protect against Fort Niagara and control the mouth of the Niagara River … and was an active military site right through the end World War Two.”

Fort Mississauga National Historic Site
An illustration of Fort Mississauga done in 1888. (Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library)

“There’s lots or buried artifacts, lots of in situ (on-site) artifacts, and so we were worried about losing those to erosion, and losing the fort proper. So all of these things put together, we thought it was important to act to protect this site for future Canadians to come and see it.”

When it became evident to Parks Canada that high lake levels would increase shoreline erosion even more, the agency hired a consultant to explore shoreline protection solutions at both Fort Mississauga and Niagara Shores Park. At Niagara Shores, they determined shoreline protection wasn’t appropriate, largely due to an active population of threatened bank swallows.

At Niagara Shores, Buggeln says the agency was “less concerned with cultural heritage,” when compared to Fort Mississauga — which was an active military site for many years and contains buried artifacts.

“It’s a national historic site. It’s nationally significant in Canada.”

Buggeln says erosion is just a part of life.

“Erosion is a natural process. If lakeshore and rivers were left to themselves, there would be places that would be eroding, and places that would be building up with the sediment in the water. Over time, as many shorelines get hardened, there are fewer and fewer sources of sediment for the water, so places … where sediment would be settling and depositing, those are becoming fewer.”

Looking to the future of Niagara Shores Park, with North America’s oldest golf course and one of Canada’s national historic sites now protected, Buggeln says it’s “hard to say” what could change to make Parks Canada reverse its decision not to protect the land at Niagara Shores.

The bank, which had no beach left, was threatened to collapse, and most of the trees were damaged or dying, says Buggeln.

Kingdon says the breakwall is “helping to protect Fort Mississauga and the historic artifacts along the lakeshore property, while at the same time ensuring public safety.”

The agency “is continuing to monitor any public safety concerns at Niagara Shores Park and, to date, have excluded vehicles to help mitigate the risk,” she says.

“Shoreline erosion is a long-term, ongoing natural process, with rates of erosion varying each year due to lake levels and weather events. Erosion rates are generally increased in high water years, like this year and 2017.”

Kingdon says many people have expressed interest in having a pedestrian walkway included along the rebuilt waterfront. However, at the moment, Parks Canada has no plans for one but might assess the viability of a walkway in the future.

Go to Part 5: “I wouldn’t be happy to know it’s manmade.”